Sheffield United: Furniss and Collindridge remember the Blades last FA Cup tie at Crewe

Fred Furniss played in Sheffield United's last FA Cup tie against Crewe Alexandra � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Fred Furniss played in Sheffield United's last FA Cup tie against Crewe Alexandra � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

The railways had just been nationalised, colour television still two decades away from being broadcast and Harry Truman was president of the USA, writes James Shield.

Saturday 10 January 1948, when Sheffield United last met Crewe Alexandra in FA Cup competition, the world was a very different place.

Sixty six years on, after being paired together for only the second time since the tournament’s inception, the two surviving members of the visiting team beaten 3-1 at Gresty Road provided The Star with a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. One, Fred Furniss and Colin Collindridge revealed earlier this week, where footballers led relatively spartan lives in a country still scarred by war.

“We were all very good friends,” Furniss, the former full-back and Bevin Boy, said. “There was a snooker table at the ground and I became quite a handy player. We used to spend a lot of time there on that after training and games.

“I watch games now and things have certainly changed a lot. But those were wonderful times and we had a very good team.”

Which is why, when two goals from Bobby Finan and another effort from Eric Jones propelled Crewe to victory over Teddy Davison’s side, eyebrows were raised across the country. United, then rubbing shoulders with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool in the top-flight, had arrived in Cheshire as favourites to reach the fourth round stage. Instead their place was taken by opponents managed by the late Frank ‘Tiger’ Hill but languishing in the Third Division North.

“Did they really beat us? Well, that must have been a shock,” Collindridge, who scored United’s consolation, admitted. “I remember how many talents we had in that group so we’ll have been very disappointed I’m sure.

“Fred was very good and a very fit bloke too. He was always known for keeping himself in tip-top shape. We both got along very well.

“He used to ask me for advice about lots of different things back then. But I could never give him any about solo whist, which was very popular on trips, or the billiard table.

“Alex Forbes was the only person who could touch Fred when it came to that. But Fred used to wait for him to leave a red and then clear up. Aye, he was very crafty at doing that.”

Not that Furniss, who made the first of his 433 appearances for United during an air raid over Goodison Park in 1941, or Collindridge, a veteran of 232 starts at outside left and centre-forward, will have been too distraught with how the contest unfolded. In fact, they were probably just glad to be there.

“I was stationed with the RAF during the war,” Collindridge, aged 93, said. “Our job was putting the bombs on Lancasters at Syerston and there was one instance, when I was sat on the plane deck with my pal at the time, where he noticed a great 4,000 pounder had dropped off.

“I’ve never been so frightened. Fortunately it didn’t explode because, if it had, then I don’t suppose I’d be talking about it now.

“It still gives me the shivers to think about it. We were just lucky I suppose.”

“I was in the British Army and when they found out who I was they kept giving me papers to sign,” Furniss, aged 92, said. “They wanted me to play for them permanently I think but it was always United for me.”

Both Furniss and Collindridge count the late, great Jimmy Hagan, who also represented Derby County and England, as a former team mate.

“How Jimmy only ever got one cap for England I’ll never know,” Collindridge said. “Well, actually I do because he was a proper Geordie who used to speak his mind.

“If something was wrong or he disagreed with you then he’d come straight out with it and I don’t think the people who picked the team really liked that.”

When Nigel Clough’s squad travel to Crewe later this evening for tomorrow’s first round tie, they will do so on board a luxury coach equipped with a satellite dish and kitchenette before checking in to a comfortable hotel.

“We used to get looked after very well too though,” Furniss remembered. “We never went on the train, we always went by coach.

“That was all organised by Sheffield United Tours who used to take the fans as well. But it was very comfortable and we had a radio.

“When we went to London stayed overnight. We have our dinner and then go out to watch a show.”

Pre-match preparations are not the only thing which have changed beyond all recognition since the days Furniss, previously of Hallam, and Collindridge, born in Baraugh Green near Barnsley, plied their trade.

“I had a very good kick on me and I could send the ball a long way,” Furniss said. “I was very good at taking penalties as well.

“When I watch matches now I always think I’d quite fancy playing with the modern balls because they’re so light. I used to come off the pitch with the lace marks from the ones we used imprinted on my forehead.

“If you didn’t get a header right it really used to hurt.”

“Sheffield was a very tough place then,” Collindridge added. “But Sheffielders, like Fred, were good, honest people.

“We could all look after ourselves and people used to tell me that I was fair to my opponents. You didn’t swear in public but what they didn’t notice was me giving them a kick when no one was watching.”

Both Furniss and Collindridge hope United’s class of 2014, which reached the semi-finals of the competition last term, avenge the club’s loss nearly seven decades ago.

“I went to the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations and it was wonderful,” Furniss said. “It was a cold day but I was determined to go out on the pitch (to form a guard of honour). Someone kindly gave me a coat and so I did.

“I was also at the dinner recently at Ponds Forge and signed lots of autographs and had pictures taken with people.

“It’s a brilliant club and it means so much to me.”

“I’ve never said a bad word about Sheffield United and I never will,” Collindridge added. “Because it’s a great place full of great people and I’m sure everyone realises that. Just how special it is.

“So, fingers crossed, the lads go there and win.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1